Not that high schoolers are the most discerning foodies in town, but they sure know where to find cheap sustenance on which to spend those last few precious dollars stolen from mom's wallet.
And sometimes, their purchasing choices at a corner mercado become so undeniable that the store just decides to open a taqueria inside to accommodate the raging teenage hunger nearby.
Take, for example, El Pacifico, a market on Atlantic Ave., which is within spitting distance of Poly, Long Beach's largest high school. Though it's also across the street from the infamous Poly Burger, sometimes, a kid's gotta get some lengua tacos, and so starting a few years ago, the Jalisco-bred family that owns El Pacifico began rolling a grill onto the sidewalk every afternoon to cook up goodies from the carneceria in back.
Success came quickly (and I'm sure, so did the Health Department), leading the family to install a taqueria inside of the store itself, with a walk-up window that leads to precisely where the outdoor kitchen once stood.
Once legal and indoors, Taqueria El Pacifico was blessed with a legitimate name and an expanded menu of Mexican fast food, from burritos and tacos to sopes and nachos–all choice fuel for young metabolisms.
Most of the tacos are an allowance-friendly $1 and offer a wider range of meat than the basic carne asada. Pastor, chorizo, lengua, buche and tripe are all on deck daily, though the spit is often cleaned by lunchtime, so everything is left to sit in heated serving trays where it gets crispier by the hour.
If you want to get down on the more uncommon meats, get there early before the tripe goes full crunch and the chorizo soaks up all of its own flourescent juices or risk having to douse them in one of the soupy salsas (roja, verde or aguacate) to rejuvinate them back to life.
The carne asada and pastor hold out a little longer and therefore make great fillings for El Pacifico's $5 burritos, which finds the little niblets of beef and pork wrapped in a massive flour tortilla with rice, beans, onions and cilantro–the all-original meat delivery vessel.
For those with more than a fiver to spend (or the patience to track down a knife at a taqueria), El Pacifico also does some killer roasted chicken. A full $8 meal includes a quartered half chicken–its leathery yellow skin still spicy from hours of cooking with a chile rub–warm tortillas, fluffy rice and refried beans for do-it-yourself burro-making.
Outside of peak weekend hours when the street-side window opens for service, you'll need to order everything at the taqueria counter inside the mercado, which allows for a quick trip to the Jarrito fridge before paying at the register and dining on the small tables outside.
With a serious lack of walk-up taquerias in Long Beach, it seems that the students at Poly have created their own school-side hangout at which to dine on a variety of Mexi vittles. And while El Pacifico may not be able to compete with the handmade tortillas of El Taco Loco or the always-fresh pastor from Taqueria La Mexicana, it's one of the few carnecerias in town to cook up all their specialty meats and serve them on site–mmmm tastes like ditch day.
Taqueria El Pacifico, 1473 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach, (562) 218-3291
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.